NAME GAME

Flight attendants on Hong Kong’s flagship airline are fighting a plan to make them use their Chinese names

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

Flight attendants on Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways, are fighting a plan that would require them to put their official Chinese names on their badges, alongside their adopted Westernized ones—and drawing accusations from the mainland of having an inferiority complex about their roots in the process.

An announcement from the company on May 29, obtained by Chinese publication Apple Daily (link in Chinese), asked employees with Cantonese and Mandarin as their spoken language to add the Chinese names from their official IDs starting from Sept. 1. It described the policy as intended to “align name badge standards across all departments within the Cathay Pacific Group.”

It’s common in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for people to offer westernized names when dealing with foreigners, instead of their formal Chinese name, although many have also abandoned the practice, which isn’t common elsewhere in Asia, such as India, Japan or Korea. Cathay’s ground crew have been displaying Chinese names (link in Chinese) on their badges for years, as do many people working in Hong Kong’s services industry. The change from Cathay comes as it is in the midst of major financial losses and restructuring; one report suggested it could be meant to appeal to mainland tourists (link in Chinese).

However, the company immediately saw strong opposition from the cabin crew, especially among the some 6,000 attendants from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union (FAU), a staff rights advocacy group, referred Quartz to a post on its Facebook page in which it said it had received “overwhelming responses” from Hong Kong and Taiwan cabin crew against the policy, mostly concerned about privacy.

Apple Daily quoted two women who identified themselves as employees of Cathay subsidiary Cathay Dragon, which already has a policy of using actual Chinese names on badges, as saying they were harassed with calls and text messages from passengers who had noted down their names. The group said it had received feedback from crew community, whose concerns had led the group to put the plan on hold on May 31, Cathay says in an email to Quartz. The airline did not offer details of the concerns.

But the mainland is now weighing in.

On Sunday (June 11), Haiwainet, a news website that is part of the state-owned newspaper People’s Daily, said opposition to the badge change was coming from an “enslaved” mindset (link in Chinese).

The piece disagreed the privacy concerns voiced by the female attendants, saying that customers would notice the service, not their names. It noted that in many cases attendants already use their Chinese name, but spelled out with English letters. (The change now would be to spell them with Chinese characters.)

It went on to criticize the “mindset of Hong Kongers.”

“Some Cathay Pacific employees told media they were not willing to use Chinese names because the language is too ‘rustic’ and lacks ‘noble foreign flavor’,” said the piece, which did not link to articles containing those remarks.

It also called the opposition “a result of ‘enslavement education,'” an apparent reference to Hong Kong’s British colonial past.

Many people on Chinese social media agreed with the writer. “Hong Kong has developed into a stage where people there are resisting their mother tongue, commented one under a republication of the commentary piece on the microblog Weibo, “Hong Kong people, especially the young generation, has grown up a sense of inferiority in their bones when facing westerners and western cultures.”

Under the same post, another commenter said, “This has nothing to do with catering to the mainland, you are Chinese so it should be perfectly normal to speak and write Chinese…if you feel like being Chinese makes you embarrassed, you can apply to [live in] any other country.” The comment has gathered over 455 likes.

Visen Liu contributed reporting

This article has been updated June 13 with comments from Cathay Pacific Airways.

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